Provoking the Cultural Precariat
On Rebellious Social Climbers

School of Herring Photo: © Public Domain / Rawpixel

Lynn Takeo Musiol and Eva Tepest

From: Eva Tepest

Subject: Standstill


I’m reading Heike Geissler’s novel Die Woche (The Week), and it couldn’t be more fitting: “We proletarian princesses have a pretty good understanding of the life paths that are currently possible.” It reminds me of our conversations about the possibilities that working-class children and/or educational climbers have in the cultural sector. What are your thoughts?



From: LTM

Subject: Re: Standstill


Recently, I’ve been thinking about fishing, or to be more precise, about herring. Before our time, they came to the shallow waters of the Bodden twice a year. The shoals darkened the ocean like an inkblot. All around Stralsund and Rügen, you’d hear people crying, “The herring have arrived!” What an experience that must have been! Spicy. 

Anyways, I was thinking how challenging it can be for an upwardly mobile person to establish recurring behavioral patterns that are constant, that last. That are good for you. You know how it is: Climbing the social ladder means constantly analyzing and seeking to attain the status quo. Constantly navigating one’s way around supposed deficits. Grinding to gain some sort of perspective.

I only recently began searching for something that isn’t so easily depleted. For a long time, I was too tired to search. I found it difficult to live rebelliously and creatively in a healthy way. Because the sound on the keyboard of culture is dissonant and promising to me, the game is always on the edge and totally on point. Exciting provocation sometimes takes the form of an unequivocal “no,” like a firewall. That can be grueling. I want to be full of desire, I want to be meaner together.

To get closer to you, I would like to ask whether you have a good understanding at the moment of possible and impossible life paths?

Take care.


From: Eva Tepest

Subject: ReRe: Standstill


I’m totally charmed by the idea of herring as an inkblot. To take that thought one step further — let’s look at possible life paths and social climbing as a metaphor:
  1. *The big smash hit* — for example, the miraculous debut novel published before the age of 30, the play from an independent theater that is adapted for television = the white whale that can never be slain.
  2.  *Treading water* — all the endless jobs and networking and hope that a moderate wage or modest stipend will keep us afloat after all.
There are at least two problems here. For one thing, it is very unlikely that we will land a BIG SMASH HIT. This requires more luck than judgment, sharp elbows, and absolutely no one that relies on our care.

Secondly, and I think this weighs heavier, we are splitting from the metaphors of our origins as we go. After all, our parents do not understand what it means when we enter the hallowed halls of high culture or when the right person likes our tweet. And I don’t believe we really understand it entirely ourselves. Because we are fond of our quirks and our Ruhrpott slang and the shyness we feel when we find ourselves in the so-called temples of culture.

And so, the herring hangs on its decorative hook (“bright flashing colors and gold hooks are essential,” I read in the herring almanac), and it is completely undecided whether it has been caught, or it will carry on swimming. It’s neither success nor failure, it’s just that it isn’t enough to live on, but you try to do it anyway. That’s the standstill that we’re actually talking about here.

I think I’m right, even if my metaphors are contradictory like when they are “dissonant and promising.” But what are we supposed to do? What kind of bait would it have to be for us to bite? Or will we manage to swim out into the vast expanses of the ocean, where our frustrating coastal life no longer matters?



From: LTM

Subject: Hello


So, you swim off, and you can’t deny feeling a certain sadness now and then when you glance back towards the coast. As Cynthia Cruz writes in The Melancholia of Class: A Manifesto for the Working Class, for example: Melancholia is a desire to return to our origins and, simultaneously, a loathing, a parallel desire to stay away. That’s not a standstill but a lack of orientation, being overwhelmed, and the certainty that you’ll never know exactly when you’ll reach the edge, the coast, the depths of your desires as a climber. And isn’t it true that we will probably never obtain what we think we want? How are we supposed to cope with the disappointment? How are we supposed to navigate through this in solidarity?

This feeling of “being on the ropes” is clearly related to our lack of role models. Rebellious climbers and proletarian princesses. Believe me, I really treasure the few I discovered during my teenage years. Like Eileen Myles, for instance. But it also wasn’t rare that I felt embarrassed for her. My role models were somehow marginalized, not a part of mainstream society. Unknown. Tainted. Sometimes, I treated them like acquaintances you see out walking and don’t say hello to.

How nice it would be to regularly celebrate the hotness of all our social climbers and underpaid workers! Four relevant tags:

Logo Das Wetter © Das Wetter This article was commissioned by and created in collaboration with Das Wetter – Magazin für Text und Musik.

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